Movie Review: Birdman: Or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance (2014)

Posted: February 23, 2015 in Comedy, Drama
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Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton) is a struggling actor, once famous for playing the superhero “Birdman” in a series of blockbuster movies.  Riggan is trying to rejuvenate his floundering career by writing, directing and starring in a Broadway adaptation of a Raymond Carver short story.  The play is a battle from the start, Riggan drops a lighting rig on an actor named Ralph (Jeremy Shamos) whose acting he didn’t like.  Riggan is battling the actor who replaces Ralph, Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) who is renowned, but who Riggan thinks is a prima donna. He’s battling with his wife, Sylvia, (Amy Ryan) who wants him to pay more attention to his daughter Sam (Emma Stone) who has a drug problem.  Riggan is also battling a vindictive theater critic, named Tabitha, (Lindsey Duncan) who doesn’t think that movie stars should be on Broadway.  Most of all he’s battling a voice in his head, begging him to forget the phoniness of Broadway, and cash in on another big budget “Birdman” film.  When the Broadway show goes to previews, Mike sabotages the play by breaking character. With all the distractions buzzing around him, what does Riggan decide to do?  Does he continue with his Broadway play or does he cash in with another big budget film?

There are interesting elements in this film.  There seem to be duel realities going on,  the reality as Riggan perceives it and actual events.  The line between reality and fantasy is purposely blurred. The internal dialogue between Riggan and the voice in his head seems to perpetuate the feeling that Riggan is losing his grip on reality, but is he really? The play that’s being performed serves a dual-purpose as well, the lines delivered by Riggan are lines in the play, but they also have a relevance to his life and struggles at the moment.  There’s also a critique of theater critics, and the importance of social media, themes that were better explored in the movie Chef, with food critics replacing theater critics.  Ultimately, there are too many characters and many of them are stock, the nagging ex-wife, insecure actors, the daughter with the drug problem, and these characters have no depth.  There is one or two false endings, and the actual ending which was unsatisfying to me. The story veered too much from light fantasy to heavy drama, and didn’t feature enough satire of both the movie and Broadway genres for my liking.  Do I think it will win best picture?  Maybe.  Do I think it deserves to win Best Picture?  No. it’s an ambitious film that falls flat on its face too often to be considered a  best picture.

The acting was good, I thought Keaton as Riggan was pretty flat, and then came his confrontation with the theater critic, and that turned the performance from a so-so performance to a good performance.  Is it Oscar worthy?  No, but there’s a lot of sentimentality behind Keaton right now and so he might win.  Hollywood loves a good comeback story, and Keaton has one now.  The best performance in the firm is given by Edward Norton as the pompous self-important actor who thinks he can save the play singlehandedly.  He’s also nominated for an Oscar this year deservedly so, but probably won’t win, up against JK Simmons.  Emma Stone gives a one note performance, angry, as Keaton’s wild-child daughter, I was expecting more subtlety, I didn’t get it.  She’s nominated, but won’t win. Patricia Arquette should win for Boyhood .Naomi Watts gives an uneven performance as an insecure actress and struggles with her American accent. But Zack Galifianakis is consistently funny as Riggan’s lawyer.

The direction is technically ambitious, but at times visually distracting.  Director Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu  uses one continuous shot through the film, the whole film is shot from Riggan’s perspective.

But then Inarritu has a drummer playing background music in the film and then shows the drummer playing in the film. That’s excessive.  The movie is too long, and several characters could have been  scaled down or eliminated entirely. The pacing is hurt by the one continuous shot.

Birdman:  Never really soars.



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